Hal McRae thought the 1976 batting title was stolen from him in a racist plot

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From the Department of I Had No Idea This Ever Happened comes the racial controversy over the 1976 A.L. batting title.  The part I knew about: the race came down to the last day between teammates George Brett and Hal McRae. In their last at bats, Brett hit an inside the park home run and McRae grounded out: title Brett.

The part I had no idea about: McRae believed there to be a racist conspiracy in play to throw the title to Brett:

After the game, McRae claimed that the Twins conspired to give Brett the title. Racism, McRae said, was the motivation . . . McRae’s claim centered on the argument that [Twins’ outfielder Steve] Brye was playing too deep
(at Mauch’s instruction) and that Brye likely hesitated on Brett’s
flyball, letting it fall . . . Brett also is quoted as saying, “I think maybe the Twins made me a
present of the batting championship, and if they did, I feel just as
bad about it as Hal does”.

All that came from a 1976 copy of the Sporting News unearthed by the Royals Review blog.  The kicker: it was just in some ordinary story on page 31, unaccompanied by any commentary or anything.  And nothing else ever really came of it.

Royals Review asks the question I had the moment I started reading it: can you imagine if that happened today.  The commentary explosion would definitely be something to behold. Most of it would probably be pretty predictable, of course.

I think it would be worth it alone just to see what the K.C. Star’s Jason Whitlock would do. I can’t decide if he would go with the conspiracy theory angle (his Jeff George articles are classics of the genre), the straight up racism story, or if he would go with what is perhaps his greatest strength and take the really, really contrary angle and, I dunno, accuse McRae of hatching his own conspiracy to create the batting title conspiracy and then use the rest of the column to slam ESPN and the nation’s culture.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.